Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

I have a perception about the works of Neil Gaiman that I would be happy to debate: That despite his lyric prose and humor and his homages to Bradbury, Gaiman relishes situations in which the individual stands against forces concentrated against him. (Or her in a case like Coraline.) There’s already an heroic under-thread in his works, so who better to retell the stories of Valhalla?

I suppose, with two Scandinavian grandparents, that I should have had an early interest in the myths and sagas but I couldn’t warm to them. Perhaps the overwhelming Irish and English genes fought against them. But these retellings by Gaiman are excellent and exciting so I totally surrendered to the book while it was open.

Gaiman says he culled and sorted the Norse myths from a variety of sources to create a logical and consistent pantheon. Although some parts of the stories are familiar many have elements that were completely new to me.

These are ideal Gaiman characters: Odin,a god who defiantly plucks out his own eye; Loki, who constantly tweaks the dignity of the other immortals; ever-heroic, if slightly dense Thor. These are immortals whose stories amazed centuries of northern Europeans and still echo in four of our seven days of the week.

I think almost any other writer would have turned these into a dry catalog of events. Gaiman brings them to life with a story-teller’s instincts. They have the atmosphere of stories told by a fire on a night lasting 23 hours.